We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Saturday, April 20, 2019


Bronwyn Schuman and Katerina Burton

We love big beautiful sopranos with big beautiful voices and were delighted to get a further hearing of Katerina Burton whom we so enjoyed as the housekeeper Mrs. Grose in Britten's Turn of the Screw. Since then we have heard and enjoyed her sizable soprano a few more times; yesterday we found ourself grabbing one last chance to hear her at her Graduate Diploma Degree recital before she departs for Opera Theater of St. Louis' Young Artist Program.

Every time we have heard her in recital she has performed songs of Joseph Marx, a choice which delights us. Yesterday she explained that the composer defied the atonal and serial innovations of his contemporaries (Berg and Schoenberg) to write tonal melodic music. This serves to explain why he never achieved the fame he merits and also why we like his songs so much!

Ms. Burton's instrument is rich and full with spacious resonance at the top and Marx's songs offer many opportunities to show it off. It would be difficult to pick a favorite but we particularly enjoyed the tender "Selige Nacht" as collaborative pianist Bronwyn Schuman joined in with gentle arpeggi. Both artists invested "Der bescheidene Schäfer" with charm. There was an immediacy to "Waldseligkeit" that we felt to be shared among the poet, the composer, the two artists, and the audience.

Equally thrilling for us was the set of songs by Jean Sibelius, sung in Swedish. We did not know that he composed over a hundred songs, having heard only a few of them. (This gives us something to look forward to!) The four selected by Ms. Burton were familiar to us, especially the passionate "Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte" and "Var det en dröm" in which the low notes didn't phase Ms. Burton at all. "De första kyssen" was beautifully phrased and "Soluppgång" made use of dynamic variety to great effect. 

Three 20th c. English songs on the program offered pleasures of varying degrees. We had not heard of British composer Michael Head but his strophic song "The Ships of Arcady" pleased us with its lovely melody, rhyme scheme, and repetitive motif. Ivor Gurney's "Sleep" lacked an interesting vocal line so we found our ears tuning in to the haunting piano writing, so well played by Ms. Schuman. Frank Bridge's "Love went a-Riding" is familiar to us and we always enjoy it.

The set of songs by Charles Tomlinson Griffes, settings of text by Fiona McLeod, failed to hold our attention in spite of the fine performance. Again, the lack of a compelling vocal line allowed our attention to wander to the piano.

On the other hand, two French songs compelled our attention by virtue of their melodiousness and Ms. Burton's fine French. Henri DuParc's "L'invitation au voyage" always carries us away to a land of fantasy and Reynaldo Hahn's "Si mes vers avaient des ailes" was sung with appropriate romantic delicacy.

The program closed on a high note with four songs by Rachmaninoff in which singer and collaborative pianist met in perfect partnership. "Ne poy, krasavitsa, pri mne" has always been one of our favorites. The Eastern melancholy touches our heart and the melismatic singing, like a glorious vocalise, weaves its way into our ears and enchants us. (We had the thought then that we'd love to hear Ms. Burton sing "Bachianas Brazilieras".)

"Son" introduces a gentle Russian melancholy over a dream of yearning, whereas the dream of "Zdes' khorosho" is a dream of solitude and communion. The evening ended joyfully with the seasonally appropriate "Vesenniye vody". The snows are melting, the streams are swollen, Spring is here!

Thank you Katerina for this fulfilling recital (and all the other ones as well) and best wishes in St. Louis! You are destined for success.

(c) meche kroop

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